STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE
Bhubaneswar, 25 October
More than the shortfall in installed capacity or generation, the fact that stake holders including the private distribution companies and the state governments do not want to purchase costly power leads to load shedding. Still worse, many industrial houses and influential people steal power, observed Mr V S Verma, member CERC.
Mr Verma put things in perspective at a time when the speakers from the state who preceded him had defended the private distribution companies and blamed the Central government for several problems facing the power sector.
The lively discussion took place at a national seminar EM-POWER 2013 organised by FICCI Odisha chapter. It commenced with FICCI Odisha chairman Subhrakant Panda flagging off the issues ~ smart grid, renewable energy, problems in the distribution sector, trading and open access etc.
Mr Verma said the country has a installed capacity of over 1.28 lakh MW and it was a matter of shame that we are unable to meet the demand. Distribution companies do not buy costly power, they prefer loadshedding. Even states,  including Odisha, do not want NTPC&’s costly power generated from imported coal, he said.
“It is ridiculous to say that one needs to segregate power generated from imported coal and locally mined coal, is it possible?”  said Verma while imploring upon all stake holders to give up their narrow parochial views and look at the broader picture. He pointed out that the AT&C loss in a state like Odisha was as high as 39 percent. “Who steals this power? Not the poor consumer, it is the industries and the influential people who indulge in power theft and they would account for 15 percent of the theft,” he said.
Similarly the states have objections to certain aspects of the 2003 Electricity Act involving the Open Access system, the states violate it. But the irony is that it was enacted after due consultations and consent of the state governments, remarked Verma. The states including Odisha have not met their obligation in terms of renewable energy purchase, he said. Interestingly Verma had a word of futuristic caution too as far as renewable energy and grid management is concerned.
Carriage and content cannot be successful unless tariff is realistic and the regulator has to ensure this, he said. He regretted that Coal India Ltd was unable to provide adequate coal to thermal stations. Their supplies range between 60 to 80 percent of the requirement, he said. The Odisha Electricity Regulatory Commission (OERC) chairman, SP Nanda, claimed the power sector reforms pioneered by Odisha had resulted in the government saving at least 6000 crore by way of subsidy per annum. Over 12 years, the government must have saved Rs 15,000 crore he said. He regretted the ‘outlandish’ thinking that reforms meant privatization and the government has to wash off its hands from the sector.
Nanda praised the energy department which , in recent years , had invested in the sector and had plans of pumping in Rs 5000 crore over the next three years.
Emphasising that the government has a role to play, Nanda cited the instance of the recent cyclone and the extensive damage caused to power systems. Can we expect a private distribution company to rebuild the lines, he asked. The OERC chairman went on to note that over the years, the central government has been denying capital support to Odisha power sector just because it had privatized the distribution and government funds cannot be given to private company. Vested interests continue to campaign that the power reforms in Odisha have failed, they want a roll back, he alleged.
Energy Secretary P K Jena said one needs to crack the vicious circle of high AT&C losses resulting in adverse balance sheet of private distribution companies and consequently the unwillingness  to finance such distribution companies who in turn continue to fail in reducing AT&C losses. Defending the infusion of funds by the state government ( many criticizing it as an attempt to bail out the private distcos), Jena said it was needed to break the vicious cycle. He , however, conceded that the distcos had not been able to mobilize their share of the capital infusion progamme.
He  blamed the Centre for depriving the state of funds on the plea that the distribution is in the hands of private companies.